In many divorce cases, the most difficult issues to resolve are parenting matters. Sometimes, it is very hard for one or both parents to accept that they will not see their children each and every day for the foreseeable future. The situation becomes even more tense and challenging when the children’s parents do not see eye to eye and cannot get past certain hang ups regarding one another’s parenting style, beliefs, and/or new significant others. In some cases, one party may allege that the other party has substance abuse problems, a history and tendency of violence and/or crime, mental health issues, etc.
In these high-conflict divorces, what is best for the children may get lost in the shuffle and buried under the parents’ drama and angst. Sometimes, parents are completely at odds with each other regarding custody and parenting plans. As a result, the parties may agree to hire a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to help them craft a plan that is best for the children. Moreover, the court may order the appointment of a GAL despite the parents’ objections.
Note: A GAL’s role may be very narrow or broad, depending on the court’s orders. The court may request that the GAL make recommendations regarding one specific issue; or the court may request findings and recommendations regarding the entirety of the situation.
The role of a GAL
Whether agreed upon or court appointed, the role of a GAL is the same: to make recommendations regarding the best interests of the children. This overarching principle guides each and every decision the GAL makes. In order to make appropriate recommendations, the GAL must gather as much information as possible. Situations are rarely black and white; and the GAL must sift through and analyze a great deal of conflicting evidence.
To get as much of a complete and thorough picture of the situation as possible, a GAL requests that both parties complete a comprehensive questionnaire detailing pertinent information. Each party presents his or her “side of the story” and states why the GAL should adopt his or her proposed parenting and custody plans. The questionnaire also provides each parent the opportunity to list important witnesses who may provide helpful information.
Typically, once each parent provides the GAL with the completed questionnaire, the investigation phase begins. The GAL conducts in-person and/or telephone interviews with people who may offer insight to the case. The GAL typically interviews each parent, the witnesses listed by the parents on the questionnaire, family members, friends, teachers, coaches, doctors and therapists.
Once the GAL gathers as much information as possible regarding the matter, he or she writes a report outlining findings, recommendations, and proposed parenting and custody plans. The GAL then presents the report to the court and the parties.
Note: While the court adopts the GAL’s recommendations in the vast majority of cases, it is not required to do so. Only after considering the totality of the evidence presented at trial will the court makes final determinations regarding the outstanding parenting issues.
A GAL investigation may be expensive; and it may feel very intrusive. However, if parents are unable to work together to reach a parenting and custody plan that is best for the children, a GAL investigation and report may be necessary.
Contact Attorney Klovee today
Attorney Rosanne Klovee has vast experience working with GALs and advising clients going through the GAL investigation and reporting process. She will help you navigate the process and answer your questions and concerns along the way.